May 9 is celebrated as Victory Day in the Russian Federation marking victory against Nazi Germany in 1945. The tradition is drawn from the Soviet past.
A grand military parade is organized in the Red Square in Moscow and President of the Russian Federation makes a seminal speech which acknowledges the sacrifice made in the
Second World War in which 27 million citizens of the Soviet Union lost their lives.
This is the largest sacrifice made during the War.
The victory is celebrated in Ukraine with the Soviet Union past, Ukrainians were also part of the sacrifices made in the Second World War.
This year May 9 had special significance as this marked the 75th Day of the “Special Military Operation,” launched by Russia in Ukraine on February 24th which is now referred to in general as the War in Ukraine.
Anticipations May 9, 2022
Given progress of the war in Ukraine it was anticipated that the Russian President Vladimir Putin will make a seminal announcement on further prosecution of war.
Some analysts expected that Russia may declare victory and seek to suspend operations in Ukraine consolidating the operational gains made thus far.
This could lead to cessation of hostilities, cease fire and negotiations as the next phase providing much needed end to the humanitarian crisis.
At the other end of the spectrum there was speculation of general mobilization being ordered by the Russian President to further prosecute the war.
This would imply an official declaration of War, whereas the ambit under which Russian forces have been employed in the offensive is as stated earlier a Special Military Operation which does not require national mobilization.
As the initiative in the Ukraine war lies with Russia, the first move was expected from the Russian side – expansion or regression of offensives.
What Happened on May 9?
However, what actually happened on May 19 belied these expectations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin after customary salutations and ceremonials in his speech disappointed those who expected a cease fire as well as expansion of the war in Ukraine.
He acknowledged sacrifices made by the Russian soldiers in the War in Ukraine but provided no inkling of what the further objectives were.
On the same day Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky made a pre recorded address from the main street in Kyiv rallying the nation for continued resistance to the Russian aggression in the backdrop of Ukraine’s contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Both Presidents from Russia and Ukraine thus seemed to indicate that the war fighting would continue.
Before envisaging Post May 9 scenarios, a quick review of the ground situation may be essential.
When the War began on February 24th, there were essentially four axes on which the Russian offensive was launched-
North – towards Kyiv, North East – towards Kharkiv – East towards Luhansk and Donetsk and in the South – Mariupol and Kherson.
Presently Russian offensives are ongoing in the East in Luhansk and Donetsk areas with slow and steady gains being made due to stiff resistance by Ukrainian forces.
Offensives in the Kyiv and Kharkiv axis have not been pursued with the former having been abandoned and Russian forces pulling back.
While presently Ukrainian forces have launched a counter offensive on the Kharkiv axis Russians are pulling eastwards possibly to redeploy to the Eastern battlefield.
In the South clearance of Azovstal Metallurgical Complex in Mariupol by the Russians remains while fire assaults have been launched in and around Odessa, the main Ukrainian port on the Black Sea.
Immediate military objectives and Attainment
The immediate Russian objectives appear to be to seek control of Donbas to include Luhansk and Donetsk Oblast, consolidate the corridor connecting Rostov with Crimea by clearing Mariupol.
Ukrainian war objectives appear to be to clear Russian ingress in Kharkiv, keep the Russian forces engaged on this axis and prevent a pull out to support the offensive in the East.
To achieve immediate objectives Russian forces will require substantial accretion of force levels given stiff Ukrainian resistance as gains that are expected to be made are slow and time consuming.
As the terrain in the area becomes favourable to operations by tanks, the Russians may gain an advantage.
Ukraine on the other hand has been able to muster considerable foreign assistance in terms of weapons and ammunition including artillery and anti tank missiles, how rapidly this will be brought into active action through training and integration at the tactical level will determine the pace of success of Russian operations.
At what point the culmination point of the current phase of Russian operations will be reached remains to be seen?
Envisaged Operational Scenario
Given the overall geopolitical directions evident from the actions and proposals by multiple stakeholders such as application of membership for NATO by Ukraine, the lend lease revival for supporting Ukraine by the United States and so on, an early cease fire is not evident.
Continued battles on the Eastern and Southern front are envisaged with slow progress.
Massive employment of artillery and missiles could be forthcoming by the Russian forces.
One option for Russian forces could be to attempt to block the port of Odessa, while a land offensive to seize the city is not within the realms of operational capability.
The possibility of linking up with Transnistria the breakaway province of Moldova is also unlikely unless substantial accretions are made by Russian forces.
A sudden collapse of Ukrainian resistance can provide the much needed mark of success to the Russians, but 75 days of investment in a war with tremendous sacrifices, there is unlikely of breaking of will of the leadership or the people.
As for the state of Ukrainian forces not much is known yet given the confidence demonstrated by President Zelensky they appear to be in good fighting spirit.
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Humanitarian Costs of a Long War
What emerges now is the scenario of a long war that may extend at least for months in terms of warfighting and years in terms of Ukraine and Russia contentions over territorial sovereignty.
The humanitarian tragedy underlying these developments seem to be receiving the short shrift despite appeals by many leaders including the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and others.
With the world facing other crisis such as inflation, food security and other hazards, the danger is of the ongoing war in Ukraine being pushed to the background.